Rock of Ages: ‘Rockin’ this Joint Tonite

rock of ages

Gambling, drinking, guns and bombs — Tulsa’s rock ‘n’ roll gigs of the 1950s felt like Wild West shows



Before rock ‘n’ roll exploded in the late ’50s, there weren’t many places in Tulsa where a talented kid could play in front of a crowd.

Tommy Crook, who left rock ‘n’ roll to become the best-known solo guitarist in town, remembers.

“The Ritz and the Rialto and the Orpheum (movie theaters) used to have these stage shows on Saturday afternoons and Saturday nights, in between movies,” he said. “They started out as talent shows, with the 10-dollar first prize for talent, and then turned into like a Saturday night barn dance, with 15 or 20 different acts. They’d have bales of hay up there — it was just like the Grand Ole Opry. A guy’d come out and introduce the acts, and most everybody had comedy. I’d tell jokes and sing those old novelty tunes, like ‘Smoke That Cigarette.’ That’s where I first met (J.J.) Cale.

“That’s how I got started, and there wasn’t anybody else doing anything then,” he adds. ” ‘Course, there wasn’t any place for them to do it anyway. Back in those days, there was one all-night grocery store, the Trenton Market. And as far as restaurants and clubs, there wasn’t any such thing. They didn’t even really have those brown-bag things in those days, because until ’59, everything was bootleg whiskey.”

1959 was indeed the year that the nightlife scene changed in Tulsa.

Before that, the only alcoholic beverage that could be served in Oklahoma bars was 3.2 beer. An election in 1959 made it legal to sell liquor and wine in package stores; clubs had to operate under strict guidelines. They couldn’t legally sell liquor. A patron, theoretically, had to bring in a bottle and put it behind the bar. It was illegal for a liquor container to be sitting atop a table, so some clubs thoughtfully provided little bottle holders the tables, so people wouldn’t have to panic in case of a raid.

Originally published by Tulsa World on December 28, 2003



Rock of Ages: Part One

Titled “Birth of the beat,” the first part of these series, dives deep into the beginnings of the Tulsa Music Scene and the teenagers, whose talents, created the Tulsa Sound: Leon Russell, JJ Cale, David Gates, Gene Crose, Clyde Stacy, Bobby Taylor, Wally Wiggins, Jack Dunham, Lucky Clark, Junior Markham and Tommy Rush, along with their friends and fellow musicians, some of whom would go on to significant careers in rock ‘n’ roll.



What is Rock of Ages?

A five-part series on the early history of rock ‘n’ roll in Tulsa written by John Wooley, originally published in the Tulsa World.

Used with permission from the Tulsa World


JOHN WOOLEY is a writer, lecturer, filmmaker, and radio host who specializes in the movies, literature, and music of the 1930s and ‘40s as well as other pop-culture history. He has written, co-written, or edited more than 40 books, scripted a number of documentaries, with his scripting extending to comic books and graphic novels.  An entertainment writer for the Tulsa World newspaper for 23 years (1983-2006), Wooley has seen his articles and interviews appear in a wide range of other publications, fromTV Guide to the horror-movie magazine Fangoria, for which he wrote more than 100 pieces.  He is also the producer and host of the highly rated Swing on This, Tulsa’s only western-swing radio program.

For more information about John and his projects,  please visit: | Tulsa Sound Documentary

Teresa Knox

Teresa Knox

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  1. Larry N. boyington on April 12, 2022 at 11:05 am

    Is there a way I can find out Wes Reynolds & the House Rockers email address?
    Larry N. Boyington, aka Larry neal, former curator of the Wax Museum on the big
    1520 KOMA

    • Bryan Smith on October 27, 2022 at 8:46 am

      Larry if you are still looking for information about Wes Reynolds I am a close personal friend and have played music with him often on for years my name is Bryan Smith and I can get you in touch with him in pretty short order. You can email me at

    • Wes Reynolds on January 4, 2023 at 2:19 am
  2. Carmen Fields on November 9, 2022 at 9:06 am

    Good info–especially relationships between black and white musicians. I am trying to contact Rick Eilerts of “Shadow Lake Eight”. Can you help me with an email address or phone number? He worked briefly with my father Ernie Fields, the big band leader.

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